The Green Party has asked the Auditor General to investigate serious conflicts of interest over Food and Grocery Chief Katherine Rich’s membership on the board of the Health Promotion Agency (the Agency).
“I’ve asked the Auditor General to investigate because the Health Minister won’t,” Green Party health spokesman Kevin Hague said today.
“Health Minster Jonathan Coleman’s complacency is alarming.
“The Health Minister told me this week he is unconcerned about revelations Ms Rich has participated in meetings of the Agency when alcohol and tobacco issues were discussed, despite a clear conflict of interest.
“The Health Promotion Agency is the Government body in charge of promoting health, wellbeing, and healthy lifestyles and runs campaigns to limit the consumption of unhealthy food, tobacco, and alcohol. Yet the businesses Ms Rich promotes, as head of the Food and Grocery Council, profit from the sale of these products.
“The interests of the two are clearly in conflict and this has caused concern among health promoters and researchers for years.
“I have recently reviewed the minutes of Health Promotion Agency meetings and found Ms Rich has never removed herself from meetings, even those where decisions were made on issues relating to tobacco, alcohol advertising, and healthy eating.
“Ms Rich is required to excuse herself from these discussions, under rules in the Crown Entities Act, to avoid any hint of a conflict of interest.
“The chair of the Agency, Lee Matthias, has never reported in the Agency’s annual report a single instance where Ms Rich’s presence during the deliberation on these issues was justified.
“If neither the chair nor the Minister are prepared to investigate these conflicts of interest by Ms Rich, I’m left with no other option but to ask the Auditor General to step in.
“The role of the Health Promotion Agency is too important to be undermined by big tobacco. It’s time to shed some light on the workings of this organisation,” Mr Hague said.